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Mirza and the art of brand endorsement

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MUMBAI: There was a time when she was the darling of the nation’s advertisers and of course ad agencies. The creative directors and TVC makers hoicked Indian tennis great Sania Mirza into as many commercials as they could and made her face for Cadbury Bornvita, TVS Scooty, Sprite, Volini, Air India, Tata Tea, Hathway Cable, Emami, Adidas among other popular brands. Sania started her professional tennis career while she was only a teenager; she was young, peppy, strong, popular and opinionated - qualities every brand looks for in their ideal brand ambassador.

Then came her marriage to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik coupled with a dip in her form due to inconsistent performances and injuries. And a wave of negative publicity that followed. Cadbury or Mondelez was among the first to not abstain from renewing her endorsement contract. Slowly, other brands followed, and she was even labeled as an “outsider” by the less charitable ones.

But all that is in the past. Six years later Sania seems to be getting back in the endorsement game. She recently became the face of One Plus India and Centuary Mattresses.

Her relationship with brands  has always been a difficult one with on and off deals. Yet, Sania isn’t disappointed about it and rather advocates, “I’m not playing tennis to become a brand ambassador for brands, but I’m playing tennis to win matches for the country. Sure, endorsements help in increasing the bank balance, but that’s not the prime focus.”

Sania is part of a new bunch of sportsmen - cricketers, badminton players, tennis stars and boxing champions - who are in the top league of brand endorsers, according to report Sporting Nation in the Making, that examines sports sponsorships in India. Leading the pack is Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli who is miles ahead of even big Bollywood stars with deals going over 12 brands today, and an endorsement value of over Rs 200 crore. Kohli is believed to charge Rs 2 crore a day from brands, higher than what Mahendra Singh Dhoni did at his peak.

Badminton player PV Sindhu has become a recent favourite among marketers. Sindhu’s current endorsement fee is Rs 1-1.25 crore a day, a rise from Rs 15-25 lakh her managers got her before she became the first Indian woman athlete to win an Olympic Silver in 2016. Sindhu, according to the report, has the highest endorsement value among non-cricketers in India. The badminton star endorses 11 brands with a valuation of Rs 30 crore.

The report also highlights that cricketers in India endorse over 90 brands while all non-cricketing athletes in India combined have only 78 brand endorsements.

Sania is not much swayed by this celebrity and sports endorsement see-saw, which sees the brand fortunes of sportsman rise and fall according to their performances. She agrees that the brand endorsement business has helped some sportsmen, though not all. She, however, says she was fortunate to get a good deal when she was at her peak. Says she: “I had the fortune to grow up with sports marketing and sports journalism when media was just picking up. Social media has become really big today, especially in the last few years.”

She does believe that creatives in Indian advertising industry have become more imaginative about the use of sports celebs in TV commercials from 15-20 years ago. Says she in jest: “The way I was asked to pose with a tennis racket has changed drastically from then to now and it’s as simple as that. Brands today expect more realistic things and they understand that I am not an actress so I cannot act.”

Women athletes get slimmer cheques than their male counterparts and that is something that riles her. Says Sania: “I’ve been endorsing ever since I was 16 years old and I was one of the few people who started endorsing that young. I grew up with the media boom and, hence, could demand that price. But today I have heard PV Sindhu demands a great price, but then if you say that she should demand the same amount as Virat Kohli, that’s not going to happen because Virat is the biggest sportsperson we have in the country and we still have a long way to go for equal pay.”

A strong opinionated woman that she is, Mirza has always been a vocal supporter of equal rights for every gender. Mirza believes a lot has been said about women’s rights but true empowerment comes from within and women have to believe that they deserve equal rights and respect as men.

She also believes that new athletes who see their star on their ascendant should not make a dash to sign up for every brand that knocks at their doors. “It is important to just be yourself and connect with the brand that you want to endorse at some level. Don’t be in it just for the money,” she advises.

Would Jerry Maguire approve?

Also Read :

Aamir Khan becomes Vivo Pakistan's official brand ambassador

Kohli brand driving on the up

Ideation to execution is shorter today: Forsman & Bodenfors' Akesson

Centuary Mattresses gets Sania Mirza as brand ambassador 

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